Agave nectar (also called agave syrup) is a sweetener commercially produced from several species of agave, including Agave tequilana (blue agave) and Agave salmiana. Agave nectar is sweeter than honey and tends to be less viscous. Most agave nectar comes from Mexico and South Africa.
To produce agave nectar from the Agave americana and A. tequilana plants, the leaves are cut off the plant after it has aged seven to fourteen years. The juice is then extracted from the core of the agave, called the piña. The juice is filtered, then heated to separate the complex components (the polysaccharides) into simple sugars. The main polysaccharide is called inulin or fructosan and is mostly fructose. This filtered juice is then concentrated to a syrupy liquid, slightly thinner than honey. Its color varies from light- to dark-amber, depending on the degree of processing.
Agave salmiana is processed differently from Agave tequiliana. As the plant develops, it starts to grow a stalk called a quiote. The stalk is cut off before it fully grows, creating a hole in the center of the plant that fills with a liquid called aguamiel. The liquid is collected daily. The complex components of this liquid are broken down into fructose and glucose.
An alternative method used to process the agave juice without heat is described in a United States patent for a process that uses enzymes derived from the mold Aspergillus niger to convert the inulin-rich extract into fructose. Aspergillus niger, a fungus commonly used in industrial fermentations, is "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Agave nectar consists primarily of fructose and glucose. One source gives 47% fructose and 16% glucose; another gives 56% fructose and 20% glucose. These differences probably reflect variation from one vendor of agave nectar to another.
The impact of agave nectar on blood sugar (as measured by its glycemic index and glycemic load) is comparable to fructose, which has a much lower glycemic index and glycemic load than table sugar (sucrose). However, consumption of large amounts of fructose can be deleterious and can trigger fructose malabsorption, metabolic syndrome, hypertriglyceridemia, decreased glucose tolerance, hyperinsulinemia, and accelerated uric acid formation.
Agave nectar is 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sugar and is often substituted for sugar or honey in recipes. In cooking, it is commonly used as a vegan alternative to honey for those who choose to exclude animal products from their diets. Agave nectar dissolves quickly and so it can be used as a sweetener for cold beverages such as iced tea. It is added to some breakfast cereals as a binding agent.
Agave nectars are sold in light, amber, dark, and raw varieties. Light agave nectar has a mild, almost neutral flavor, and is therefore sometimes used in delicate-tasting dishes and beverages. Amber agave nectar has a medium-intensity caramel flavor and is therefore used in dishes and drinks with stronger flavors. Dark agave nectar has stronger caramel notes and imparts a distinct flavor to dishes, such as some desserts, poultry, meat, and seafood dishes. Both amber and dark agave nectar are sometimes used "straight out of the bottle" as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and French toast. The dark version is unfiltered and therefore contains a higher concentration of the agave plant's minerals. Raw agave nectar also has a mild, neutral taste.[dubious ] It is produced at temperatures below 118 °F (48 °C) to protect the natural enzymes, so this variety is an appropriate sweetener for raw foodists.
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